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CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH                      23

was considered a good omen for his rise in bdles-lettres.

If we believe the records, he is supposed to have penned some extra-
ordinary lines at the age of ten. Two of these lines are found in his
amusing tale of "The Cunning Mouse". It is a short piece describing
how a little mouse, when found trapped in a bag, had pretended death,
and^then worsted his captors when thrown upon the ground. Also at
about this time his teacher was reading a copy of a long poem describ-
ing the galaxy of illustrious scholars then living at the court. The
young pupil looked over the teacher's shoulder and began to ask
questions about these scholars. They were names great in China's
history, for in Su Tungpo's childhood China was ruled by perhaps the
best emperor of the dynasty, who was a patron of literature and the arts.
There was peace in the country and peace with the barbarian hordes on
the north and north-west, the Kins, the Liaos, and the Shishia kingdom,
which had been a constant source of trouble. Under such a regime,
good men held office and a number of literary talents had arisen to
grace the court with their presence. It was then that the child first heard
of the great names of Ouyang- Shiu, Fan Chungyen, and others, and
he was deeply inspired. Happily, these are about all the revelations we
have of the poet's childhood. Though Su recorded many of his adult
dreams and unfinished poems written during his dreams, there are no
unwitting remarks for the modern biographer to build, with a mixture
of interpretation, intuition, and fantasy, into a fabric of the poet's sub-
rconscious neuroses. Su Tungpo mentioned no diapers or constipation.

At the age of eleven he entered the secondary school in serious pre-
paration for the official examinations. To meet the official tests, the
students had to cover in their reading all the ancient classics, history,
and poetry, and selected prose. Naturally they had to commit the
classics to memory, and recitation in class consisted in repeating the
passages by heart, with the student's back turned towards the teacher
to prevent him from looking at the book lying open on the teacher's
desk. The more ambitious ones would memorise whole chapters from
the histories. It was not only the contents and information that were
important but also the language and phraseology, which were to be-
come elements in a writer's vocabulary. The use of a famous phrase or
of an allusion without indicating the source aroused an aristocratic and
egoistic pleasure in the learned reader. It was a kind of coterie language;
the reader conceived a respect for the writer for writing it and for him-
self for understanding it. It worked by suggestion and the association
of ideas, and was always more effective than an explicit statement that
lacked the charm of suggestion.

This memory work was hard and strenuous toil. The traditional
method was for the student to go over a printed history book, which
was never punctuated, and try to punctuate the passages as a means of